How Should We Then Live? Chapter 10: Modern Cinema
"...love without meaning... murder without guilt.. the dazzle and madness of London today"
That about sums it up don't it, more so today than when Francis Schaeffer wrote this book. Keep these phrases in mind as you read. I propose it is the theme for Chapter 10. It is the theme of the world around us too.
This chapter focused on how modern philosophy was disseminated through culture to society at large. Painters were the first to inculcate their art with this philosophy. Music composers were the second. Third were those writing poems, novels, and movies. This article will start off with a comment on how modern philosophy spread into scientific thought and then finish by looking at how philosophy affected movies in the early to mid-20th century.
Earlier I wrote about the rise and breakdown of modern science as its philosophical basis shifted. Schaeffer touches on another plot twist in the realm of science in chapter 10. He starts by explaining that empiricism and positivism replaced the Christian philosophical base, which says we can understand nature rationally because God is a rational creator, after it was abandoned. Positivism was formulated by Auguste Comte (1798-1857) who claimed that true knowledge can only be acquired regarding nature through our senses. It rejects the idea that God reveals truth to us through Biblical inspiration and the Holy Spirit. It puts all confidence in the observations of humans. Its cousin is empiricism which says that knowledge only comes through exercise of the scientific method. By these 2 philosophies scientists kept their efforts based on a form of objectivity.
In the 20th century, scientists like Albert Einstein started to describe subjective aspects of the scientific process. Science is based on the observations of humans who are never totally unbiased. This is true, which means scientific understanding has to be built carefully, allowing for mistakes to be found and weeded out. There was another objection to positivism which questioned if we could even believe the information we received through our senses. Is life just a dream or a simulation? Without positivism there was no basis for scientists to think otherwise according to their own assumptions about existence. Man is fallible and biased so science is fallible and biased. Modern science couldn't dodge forever the descent into irrationality of the rest of the intellectual world.
"Without the Christian base, neither artists nor philosophers nor scientists
had a base which would bear the needed weight in the area of how we
can be sure we can know."
Without God this is true. However, because God does exist we can trust what our eyes see. He has created us with the ability to understand the world, and He is present with us guiding our eyes so that we may know Him and his creation more completely.
"there is a correspondence between the external world
and ourselves, for God indeed made the subject and object to be
in a proper relationship, just as our lungs fit this atmosphere on the
earth. Thus, men can go on learning about the universe."
Sociological Science (Scientism) & Sociological News Media
Schaeffer says that science is now used for two things. First is the ongoing development of technology to make life easier or more pleasing. Second is to generate information used to justify the sociological direction that those in power desire. Schaeffer calls this sociological science. Today I have read others name this same thing Scientism, which I define as a set of scientific assertions communicated to society to encourage certain behaviors and discourage others. We have abundant examples of both. Poverty is steadily declining while life expectancy and the world population are steadily increasing. There is also a never ending stream of gadgets and goodies. At the same time, the government uses scientism to convince all of us that new laws and regulations are in the best interest of society. Examples of this are the mainstream viewpoints on global warming, responses to COVID-19, and even abortion. Parallel changes have shaped how our news media operates.
"sociological science and sociological news medium -- both
available for use by manipulators. And this is especially potent
with science because of the almost 'religious' belief which people
have developed about the objectivity --and thus the certainty
--of the results of science."
This should be a warning to think through everything you see or read on the news which is said to be based on "The Science." After reading this you now know that those in power aren't certain about science (if they are honest), but they are certain about what they want you to do. Just think of all the times Dr. Fauci, the CDC, and the WHO have either contradicted themselves or ignored any studies which did not support their proposed policies for COVID-19. Think about how those in power censor information or change search algorithms that are not in line with outcomes that they want to see occur, even election outcomes.
According to Schaeffer the most prominent vehicle for communicating existential philosophy to the populace was movies, by a wide margin. His focus is on a series of movies made in the 1960s by Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni, just prior to him writing the book. The philosophical basis for their films were that man is a machine and that values and morals should be pursued in the area of non-reason.
"In the area of non-reason man is left without categories. He has no
way to distinguish between right and wrong, or even what is objectively
true as opposed to illusion or fantasy."
The best example of this is shown in the movie poster at the top. In "Blow Up" (1966), Antonioni portrays a world of "murder without guilt, love without meaning." He was the first one to publicly proclaim that "love is love", a meaningless statement if you think it through. The main character isn't a hero. He merely takes pictures of things. This is the modern view of the world: a list of things, particulars, with no relationship to one another, universals.
"After a scene in which clowns play tennis without a ball, there is
at the end of the film a reverse zoom shot in which the man who is
the central character disappears entirely, all that remains is grass.
Man is gone."
Sounds like a visual representation of how the absurdity of Dadaism led into Existentialism where humanity completely fractures intellectually into nothing. If men are molecular machines then there are no morals to follow. Some of the other movies Schaeffer mentions like "Juliet of the Spirits", "Hour of the Wolf", and "Belle de Jour" went even further. They communicated that categories didn't even exist for reality and illusion. In them the viewer can't tell whether the actions are taking place in reality or the imaginations of the characters. They posed the question, is all of existence an illusion?
Schaeffer then adds an interesting side note about Ingmar Bergman's "The Silence" (1963).
"In a filmed interview he said he had come to conclude that God
is dead; therefore there is only silence in the universe."
But he couldn't live out his statement. The truth will always come through. We must live life in accordance with how things really operate. His error was exposed when he was thinking about what to use as background music and chose Bach's Goldberg Variations. He might not have been aware but he admitted as much in the same interview.
"he said that there is a small holy part of the human being where music
speaks. He added that as he was writing The Silence he had the
Goldberg Variations playing in his house and that this music interfered
with what was being set forth in that film."
Remember Bach was a Reformed Christian. He wrote his music on the basis that God does exist and that His existence is the ultimate universal the defines purpose, values, and morals. He wrote music compromised of different melodies, harmonies, and rhythms that fit together in one whole. At times they might not have fit together but the music developed into their was resolution between these things.
Now think about movies today. Don't they by and large communicate that there is love with no meaning and murder with no guilt? Think of the incorrect views of love, sex, and marriage they shower us with. Think of how they preach to us about personal fulfillment. Think about what they say about the value of money. Think about what they say about God and his church.
People all over the world take their cues on life from these sources. That is why the world overall has changed so much for the worse even as technology advances and people build wealth. Our country, our world is suffering from a lack of meaning. In the richest nation in history suicides, murder, arson, looting, and theft is all on the rise. Maybe 2020 was just a blip, but 2021 isn't off to a good start either.
If art, music, novels, TV, and movies preach that humanity is fractured into molecules and there is no real meaning to life, how should we then live?